Much has been written in the past week about some Swedish companies’ new approach to work-life balance. A number of employers, both public and private, are experimenting with cutting the working day to six hours.

This is in an effort to help employees stave off fatigue at work, and get the most out of their working day.

It might seem counter-intuitive to cut costs and up productivity by working fewer hours in the day – especially since nobody is receiving a pay cut. Workers will receive the same pay for 30-hour weeks as when they were working 40 or more. But even if the numbers wouldn’t seem to add up on paper, the approach is already getting positive results.

When people work eight hours or more in a day, their productivity tends to drop off quite sharply as fatigue sets in and distractions enter all too easily. When a shift lasts only six hours, workers have the energy to be more focused and refreshed, with more leisure time and more opportunity to get a proper night’s sleep.

Among the companies who have been hitting the headlines recently are an app developer in Stockholm and a care home in Gothenburg. In the case of the care home, the cut in hours means they need four people to cover a full day of shifts rather than three. The boost in productivity – not to mention staff happiness – supposedly more than makes up for the cost of paying the same salary to more staff.

The CEO of Swedish web marketing company Brath, which has also embraced the six-hour day, says, ‘We…believe that once you’ve gotten used to having time for the family, picking up the kids at day care, spending time training for a race or simply just cooking good food at home, you don’t want to lose that again.’

He goes on, ‘That we have shorter days is not the main reason people stay with us, they are the symptom of the reason. The reason is that we actually care about our employees, we care enough to prioritize their time with the family, cooking or doing something else they love doing.’

Is Britain likely to take to shorter days? We already have among the longest working hours in Europe, so perhaps we’re more likely to reduce them than increase them further. It still remains to be seen whether the Nordic experiment works out in the long term – if perhaps employees will lose focus as the novelty wears off, for example.

There are also some jobs that are probably not suited to shorter working days – police officers, medical personnel, pilots and business owners of all kinds come to mind.

Are shorter working hours the answer to work-life balance? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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